Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Sunday, October 21, 2018

Op-ed: A letter to our fellow graduate students

As graduate students gain the right to unionize, many in AU’s graduate community urge others to join them in collective bargaining

Op-ed: A letter to our fellow graduate students

Dear fellow graduate students,

The National Labor Relations Board recently ruled that graduate students working as teaching or research assistants at private universities should be considered employees and, therefore, are entitled to create unions in order to collectively bargain. This breakthrough decision paves the way for us graduate assistants to move forward in our efforts to improve our working conditions. We provide American University with vital, inexpensive labor serving the University, and yet most of us struggle to make ends meet in the fifth most expensive city in the country.

Many of us enter graduate school at AU with student loan debt from our undergraduate years, and often incur additional debt as graduate students. We receive just enough each month to cover our rent and basic expenses. Many of us continue to borrow money to cover the cost of living or, more often than not, seek additional employment as paid interns, servers, retail workers, consultants or even as adjunct faculty at other local academic institutions. In the summers, we are expected to go months without receiving a paycheck from the University. Yet, summer funding opportunities are limited and the administration provides insufficient resources to support grad students who seek external funding.

Graduate students play a critical role at AU, teaching undergraduates and conducting research. We are proud of the work we have accomplished together with faculty and other students in raising AU’s  national profile. Graduate assistants add to the prestige of the University by assisting faculty in their research. We add to the educational experience of undergraduates by leading discussions and giving one on one feedback.

However, while we are expected to work around 20 hours a week, in reality we often work much more than that, especially during mid-term and final exams. The administration is constantly increasing class sizes, leaving graduate assistants overwhelmed with deluges of tests and papers to grade on a short deadline and undergraduates with a lessened experience. Furthermore, despite the physical and mental stress that comes with being a graduate student, we often avoid seeking medical help because the health care plan offered through American University has an absurdly high deductible for medical costs.

We are a diverse group of students with a range of critical demands that deserve to be heard. Our international students have suffered cuts to their summer funding and now face a difficult choice each summer between an onerous process to get summer work in the country or an expensive flight home. Graduate students from disadvantaged or vulnerable communities seek greater inclusion and support on campus. Those of us with disabilities especially need affordable, high-quality health insurance. Students who are supporting families deserve sufficient benefits and scheduling flexibility to meet their responsibilities. Years of frustration have taught us that the only way to effectively channel our demands is by uniting together to form a union so we may sit down with the administration as equals and bargain a contract that will improve our working conditions.

Graduate assistants are working with SEIU Local 500, who represent part-time faculty on campus, to create a graduate workers union. It is essential, however, that we all get involved and make this a truly collective effort so we can all share the victory. We all deserve to have our voices heard, and the best way to do so is to join us in building a union by signing a union authorization form today!

This is about making AU the best it can be. If you are a graduate assistant, please join us and help us work to make a better educational and working experience. Join us in making history as the first graduate union in Washington, D.C. and build a better university for everyone here.

To join us as we continue building a stronger voice for graduate workers on our campus, please sign a union card or reach out to us at AUGradUnion@gmail.com for more information.

In Solidarity,

Aaron Howe, College of Arts and Sciences - Anthropology

Abby Lindsay, School of International Service - International Studies

Anne Kantel, School of International Service - International Studies

April Harrison, College of Arts and Sciences - Anthropology

Aras Coskuntuncel, School of Communication - Communications

Arthur D. Soto-Vásquez, School of Communication - Communications

Arunjana Das, School of International Service - International Studies

Barbara dos Santos, School of Public Affairs - Government

Bethany A. Zaiman, College of Arts and Sciences - Anthropology

Brandon Ranallo-Benavidez, School of Public Affairs - Public Administration and Policy

Brandon Sims, School of International Service - International Studies

Catherine Bampoky, School of Public Affairs - Public Administration and Policy

Catherine Hensly, College of Arts and Sciences - Economics

Charlotte Blair, College of Arts and Sciences - Anthropology

Chelsi Slotten, College of Arts and Sciences - Anthropology

Cherie Saulter, School of International Service - International Studies

Connor Gadek, College of Arts and Sciences - Anthropology

David Reische, College of Arts and Sciences - Anthropology

Elena Herfi, College of Arts and Sciences - Anthropology

Eleni Ekmektsioglou, School of International Service - International Studies

Elizabeth Geglia, College of Arts and Sciences - Anthropology

Fernanda Ribeiro Rosa, School of Communication - Communications

Geniro Dingle, Center for Diversity and Inclusion

Hillary Mellinger, School of Public Affairs - Justice, Law, and Criminology

Hoching Jiang, College of Arts and Sciences - Anthropology

Jeanne Hanna, College of Arts and Sciences - Anthropology

Joeva Rock, College of Arts and Sciences - Anthropology

Joshelyn Smith, College of Arts and Sciences - Anthropology

Julia Fischer-Mackey, School of International Service - International Studies

Justin Uehlein, College of Arts and Sciences - Anthropology

Jyahyun Albert Lee, School of International Service - International Studies

Karen Saunders, School of International Service - International Studies

Laura Bosco, School of International Service - International Studies

Laura S. Jung, College of Arts and Sciences - Anthropology

Lucas Dolan, School of International Service - International Studies

M. L. Combes, School of International Service - International Studies

Manuel Reinert, School of International Service - International Studies

Marek Cabrera, College of Arts and Sciences - Anthropology

Meghan Doughty, School of Public Affairs - Public Administration and Policy

Miho Watabe, College of Arts and Sciences - Anthropology

Min Jung Kim, School of International Service - International Studies

Namita Rao, College of Arts and Sciences - Anthropology

Noah Rosen, School of International Service - International Studies

Pamela Lopez, School of Public Affairs - Government

Paul Behringer, College of Arts and Sciences - History

Pawan Haulkory, College of Arts and Sciences - Anthropology

Riordan Frost, School of Public Affairs - Public Administration and Policy

Robert Craycraft, College of Arts and Sciences - Anthropology

Scott Patrick, School of Public Affairs - Government

Stephen Holt, School of Public Affairs - Public Administration and Policy

Yoonbin Ha, School of International Service - International Studies

Yumna Fatima, School of International Service - International Studies


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